Christmas is a very special time and no matter what your belief is, world peace and goodwill toward people, has to be a part of it. During this extraordinary season I was honoured to have a chat with two of Port Perry’s prominent people, who work together for two of our churches. Elaine Hall and Don Willmer are ministers of the Port Perry and Prince Albert United Churches.
It seems like yesterday when this couple came to Port Perry, but in reality it has been more than six years. The ministerial couple now work together to fulfill a common goal, but that was not always the case.
Both were born in Toronto, east of the Don Valley Parkway, but from very different backgrounds. Elaine’s father was a postman and her mother a stay at home mom. Elaine was the youngest of three girls.
During high school, where she was valedictorian for her graduating class, Elaine also worked as a lifeguard and taught swimming. There was never any question in her mind about her vocation. She knew from an early age she wanted to be a minister, and studied philosophy at the University of Toronto.
To pay for tuition and have a little spending money, Elaine scooped ice-cream and later managed a shop. She also managed a blood donor clinic for the Red Cross and spent summers working for Parks and Recreation, doing whatever needed to be done.
Elaine sang in the local United Church choir, which is where she met Don, another choir member. Don was born at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and grew up in the same general area as Elaine did. His father was a teacher and his mother worked for Consumer’s Gas, and Don, along with his three younger siblings, grew up in a happy, hardworking environment.
At the ripe age of nine, Don took on a paper route and as he grew older, also began working part time at the local library. After high school, Don attended Queen’s University, studying economics and later law, at the University of Toronto.
When he graduated, Don practiced corporate and commercial law for a Toronto firm and, as challenging as his career was, he wanted more. It was not until he met Elaine that he decided the ministry was for him, and he followed his passion. Elaine had just graduated from Emmanuel College, and the couple were married in 1992.
After a two year internship and being posted to New Brunswick and South Western Ontario, Don and Elaine received a solid offer to minister in Cape Breton. It was the perfect path for them to follow, as they each worked a fifty percent shift, allowing them to spend equal time with their two children.
“It was great to be able to raise our boys together,” Elaine said, as Don nodded in agreement. They looked after four churches and were quite busy, but after seven years, the kids were growing and it was time for a move. They headed to Perth, Ontario where their third child was born.
Continuing to each work half time, gave them the ongoing ability to raise their children together and although it was hectic, their life was quite fulfilling.
The kids grew and Don and Elaine wanted to devote more time to parishioners. It was by chance that an opening in the Port Perry area arose, due to the retirement of Reverend Rohan Wijesinghe, and a move to the U.S. for Reverend Elaine Bidgood-Sveet.
“We jumped at the opportunity,” Don explained. “Port Perry seemed like such a wonderful place to raise kids and become involved in the community.” And they have. Their time is now split 75 percent, each looking after Prince Albert and Port Perry United Churches, and their days consist of visiting and meeting people, working with youth groups and connecting with the community.
The couple works well together and has a great ability to bounce ideas and problems off one another. They are also involved in many aspects of the community, such as liaising with other churches, evident recently in our Santa Claus parade, where many denominations walked together, as well as working to bring the refugee families from Syria into a safe environment.
Currently they are preparing for the Christmas Eve services at 5 and 7:30 p.m., as well as the many other events and activities planned around this festive season.
Feel free to drop a line to Don and Elaine at firstname.lastname@example.org. They would love to hear from you, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. Along with Elaine and Don, I would also like to take this opportunity to wish each and every one, a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2018.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com
Jonathan van Bilsen
Join Jonathan van Bilsen in the Standard as he begins a series of feature articles on prominent residents of North Durham in his new column, The Story Behind The Person.